Pat Craig and the largest animal sanctuary in the world

2020 CEO of the Year Finalist: Craig works to raise public awareness about the problem of captive breeding of wild animals

Eric Peterson //November 20, 2020//

Pat Craig and the largest animal sanctuary in the world

2020 CEO of the Year Finalist: Craig works to raise public awareness about the problem of captive breeding of wild animals

Eric Peterson //November 20, 2020//

Pat Craig, Founder and Executive Director

The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Keenesburg

Craig, 60, grew up around animals on a farm outside of Boulder.

Right after he embarked on a business degree at CU, he visited a friend at a zoo that had “surplus” lions and tigers in cages, and learned that many would be euthanized. “I was caught by surprise,” Craig says. “It just kept bugging me that those animals were going to be euthanized.”

He contacted other zoos, found the problem was widespread, and decided to do something about it. In 1980, Craig built a “small compound” on the farm, in the process becoming the youngest person with a licensed zoo in the U.S. at age 20, and put out the call to zoos and other facilities to take animals destined for euthanasia. “I was overwhelmed,” Craig says. “I started picking up these animals and putting them in the compound.”

In the 40 years since, the operation snowballed from the farm to a larger facility in Lyons to 160 acres in Keenesburg, northeast of Denver, in 2007. That property expanded to 800 acres spanned by a 1.5-mile-long elevated walkway with 500 animals, 75 employees and 160 volunteers. The weekly meat bill is $134,000.

In 2018, The Wild Animal Sanctuary acquired 9,000 acres near Springfield in southeastern Colorado. The property allows for 100- to 300-acre habitats and about 80 animals. The preserve could ultimately house “upwards of 1,000 animals,” Craig says.

The popularity of Netflix’s “Tiger King” series has highlighted the problem of captive breeding that Craig has worked on for the last 40 years. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is now home to several cats that once lived at Joe Exotic’s Oklahoma zoo.

“I was thrilled that 50 million people that didn’t know this problem existed now know it exists,” Craig says, calling public awareness critical to a solution. “It’s definitely getting better. For a long time, it was exponentially getting worse.”

And Craig and the Wild Animal Sanctuary have been a big part of the turnaround. “We are by far the largest sanctuary in the world, and we didn’t set out to be that at all,” he says.


This article is part of ColoradoBiz Magazine’s annual CEO of the Year feature. Read more about this year’s winner Kurt Culbertson and the other finalists: 

WANDA JAMES | CHRISTOPH HEINRICH | GEORGE STAFFORD | KRISTEN BENEFIEL | MIKE DUDICK | LLOYD LEWIS | JAVIER ALBERTO SOTO | KELLY PERKINS